UVA Today Blog

Spring Break in Cville

Spring Break is a quiet week on Grounds, but there are always some students who decide to stick around. On Thursday, the University’s Instagram account featured a few who were willing to share how they are passing the time. Here’s what they said:


U.Va. Men’s Tennis, 2013 NCAA Champions, Visit the White House


Editor’s note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is blogging about her Semester at Sea experience. If you’ve missed her earlier entries, start at the beginning: Ready to Set Sail on Semester At Sea

Karst rock formations rising up from the banks of the Li River.

[Karst rock formations rising up from the banks of the Li River.]

As Americans, we hear so much about China. It’s the up-and-coming world superpower, the most populous country in the world, holder of our national debt, maker of our goods, communist, polluted, and sender of thousands of college students to the U.S. While I can’t take an incredibly insightful stance on any of these issues after spending six days in China, the country definitely surprised me, and I learned a lot about the way it works. I spent most of my time in China in the towns of Guilin and Yangshuo, located in southern China. These places are known for their unique terrain and outdoorsy things to do – they’re away from the cities where the majority of Chinese people live, and even in the rainy, 30-degree weather, all the area attractions were sold out (arriving in China at the end of Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year, had a lot to do with it). You won’t see a ton of skyscrapers here like you might in Shanghai, but you will see gorgeous karst rock towering above the city.

Downtown Yangshuo

Downtown Yangshuo

I spent the first day in Yangshuo, the site of a huge outdoor market built alongside the mountains, and I had a lot of fun learning to haggle with vendors. The next day, I visited the Longsheng rice terraces, about two hours outside of Guilin, and had an opportunity to visit the villages where the Yao people live. They are a minority group in China known for growing really long hair – and they’ve become a tourist attraction themselves. The rice terraces they help cultivate, though cold and barren for the winter, were absolutely gorgeous.

Cable cars climb up the Longji “Dragon’s Backbone” rice terraces.

Cable cars climb up the Longji “Dragon’s Backbone” rice terraces.

While I think “culture shock” is a strong way to put it, it definitely hit me that we were out of Western culture in China. Though very few people spoke English, my friend Francesca and I were able to get along well with the help of our map (with Mandarin), a few phrases we had learned from Semester at Sea, and our phone calculators we could use to show prices while haggling. There were a few some major culture changes we noticed in mainland China, across Shanghai, Guilin/Yangshuo, and in the Longsheng villages:

Aggressiveness: In a country with 1.4 billion people, it pays to be ahead of the curve. We noticed that people were very intent on achieving their objectives, whether they were boarding the train or aircraft, selling you something, or driving in traffic – no one was afraid to be vocal and assertive.

Traffic and general living conditions: Many parts of the mainland are much less developed than the bigger cities in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, and the greatest hazard for foreign travelers in China and many of the countries, Semester at Sea told us, is traffic. In Guilin, many of the stoplights flashed only yellow, and the streets were always packed, so both drivers and pedestrians had to be ultra-aware. We also got to experience Chinese bathrooms (squatters), and found that a lot of comforts we take for granted weren’t as prominent in China – like heating in restaurants or on buses, and the availability of soap and toilet paper.

After a day of walking in this cold, tiny Longsheng village, there was a lot of exciting information in this sign.

After a day of walking in this cold, tiny Longsheng village, there was a lot of exciting information in this sign.

Media: We did notice the government influence in the media. The big difference is in TV, where all of the stations had a CCTV logo in the corner – meaning they were government-sponsored. I also got to read an English-translated newspaper during my flight to Guilin, and the political sections were written in with a very pro-government stance; the decision to drill for oil, for example, should be lauded because it was going to both reduce pollution (?) and improve the economy.

In our experience, so much of adjusting to this new place was about having a good attitude, accepting your situation, and being assertive in asking questions. We did our best to blend in to the often-packed streets in China, and we had a great first-hand experience taking a sold-out overnight sleeper train – with triple-stacked bunks – to meet the ship in Hong Kong. Almost all the SASers came back from their various destinations in China with the same thing on their minds: going somewhere warm!


Editor’s note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is blogging about her Semester at Sea experience. If you’ve missed her earlier entries, start at the beginning: Ready to Set Sail on Semester At Sea

Ship in Japan

Jan. 29: pulling in to the Port of Yokohama, with Mt. Fuji in the distance

In a country where public transportation is fast, cheap, and comes with English subtitles, the number of amazing experiences you can rack up in six days in Japan can blow you away. The amount of places I visited and things I did this week even surprised me, and I know I won’t have the room to post pictures and write about everything I did. Still, since this was my first experience abroad, I learned a lot about the country of Japan and how I function as an American within it.

The Japanese people really made the visit. Every time I had a question, I could ask (or mime) to a local Japanese person, and he or she would answer, in their best English, and often would walk me straight to my destination – even if it was out of their way. While the stereotype is of a quiet and reserved people, the Japanese are incredibly hospitable and friendly to foreigners.

My friend Grace and I stayed in Tokyo the first two nights with the Katayamas, a family I met through a visit from their daughter, Namiko. She is a Japanese agriculture teacher who visited Illinois a few years ago, and she met my family during her stay in our hometown. After hearing that I was coming to Japan, her parents invited Grace and me to stay at their home in Tokyo – and they could have not spoiled us more! They had wonderful English and were able to share much with us about their current lives, their histories, and Japanese current events. We talked about U.S. and Japanese education systems, the government, and a number of topics that I couldn’t have imagined I’d be discussing with a Japanese person, and they were very informed about America and the state of its affairs. They also had great senses of humor, and asked that they call us Okahsan and Otousan (Mom and Dad) while we stayed at their home. Okahsan, Namiko’s mother, also took us around Tokyo to places that we wouldn’t have had the first idea on how to find. Grace and I felt so blessed by having the opportunity to meet them, and we both agreed that we would love return to Japan again just to see them again. Tokyo Olympics in 2020, maybe?

Katayama family

From left: Namiko Katayama, Miyoko Katayama (Okahsan), me, Grace, Tsuneo Katayama (Otousan)]

I should note that Semester at Sea also puts together tons of home stays for many of the countries we port at. They are a wonderful way to get to know people, and I hope to do more in the future!

Japan also made me think about how much my perception of a place is shaped by the media. I was excited to see all of the places that I had previously seen on TV, like the Shibuya “Scramble Crossing”:


Shibuya intersection

The famous Shibuya intersection in Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world.

Or the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, where scenes from Memoirs of a Geisha were filmed:



Thousands of orange torii line the path to the various Shinto shrines at Fushimi.

Japan is probably the most Westernized country that our ship will visit, and you could tell from the One Direction billboards and Justin Bieber t-shirts for sale everywhere in the Harajuku district, a hangout for wacky-dressed teenagers. Even at Shibuya, the “Times Square” of Tokyo, the largest store was a Starbucks – which Otousan said was fairly new, as the inundation of coffee shops in Japan is a recent phenomenon taken from the Western world.

Elsewhere in Japan I met up with other SAS students and travelled to Kyoto and Kobe, where we saw a number of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and knowledge from my Religions of the World class came to good use.


Asakusa Shrine

Visitors or Asakusa Shrine wash themselves in smoke to purify themselves and their surroundings before visiting the kami, or ancestors/gods.

But one of my favorite parts of Japan was seeing the way they manage their space. Despite living in one of the most densely populated countries in the world, the Japanese create these small inlets of quiet spaces that are ingenious: you’ll find a silent walkway underneath a major highway, a quiet shrine and garden on a side street of a major shopping area, and even many of the city’s small local restaurants have this peaceful, warm atmosphere about them when you enter through the nearly soundproof doors. The hectic places juxtaposed with the serene parks and quiet escapes reflect Japan well – modern but conservative, and fast-paced while warm and welcoming.

Other highlights of the trip:

- Finding a $1 pack of sushi at a convenience store

- Eating some $35 sushi from Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market

- Watching elementary-age Japanese kids doing bike tricks at a local skate park, with American rap music playing in the background

- Riding the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto (an 8 hour car ride in 2 hours)

- Eating mochi, the most amazing Japanese dessert of all the Japanese desserts

- Visiting Kobe University and talking with students over their delicious $3 cafeteria lunch

- Soaking up in the hot springs outside Kobe

- Finding a gorgeous waterfall along a woodland area five minutes from the ultra-urban Shin Kobe Station

- Impressing Japanese vendors by knowing the proper way to say thank you (arigato gozaimuss!)

Back on the ship, we have 48 hours to debrief from Japan and prepare for our next port in Shanghai, China. To be continued…

#CAValanche 2014

The Cavalier Daily created the #CAValanch hashtag just before the snow began to fall on Wednesday, and the U.Va. community used it to document the snow day on Twitter and other social media. Here’s a look: